Day 28 What could have been different?
Remember!! The 31 Day TBI Challenge for CHANGE during March, Brain Injury Awareness Month, consists of just two parts:
1.) Please learn something new about TBI every day. We will be posting an article daily on our Facebook and website pages to make it easy for you to learn. Today’s article is below.
2.) Help facilitate CHANGE by partnering with The Arms Forces by assisting us in continuing our efforts for invisibly wounded veterans by collecting your CHANGE daily and at the end of March donating the money to The Arms Forces. (contact information below) Create a jar and label it:
“The Arms Forces CHANGE for TBI” and put it out where you and others will see it. When someone asks you what it is all about, share with them a bit about what you have learned about TBI. Share stories of the people you will learn about through our posts on Facebook and how their lives have been forever changed by their injuries.
If collecting change every day is not your thing then be a part of the CHANGE by making a donation to The Arms Forces through our website www.thearmsforces.org or by mailing a check to the address below.
Day 28 What could have been different?
A friend of mine who has become so dear to me has written today’s article. Desiree (Dez) friend requested me on Facebook not that many months ago. Since then, we have developed a bond over our mutual love for her soulmate, Phillip. I never got to meet Phillip, but I know him. I know him because of Dez and the stories she has shared with me. I know him because of the heart this woman has for others with TBI and PTSD. I know him because he is like so many that I have met and read about; those with TBI who are struggling, some win the battle, some don’t. Phillip didn’t. Could his death have been avoided? We will never know that for sure. But, one thing I do know for sure, is that he inspires me to do more to help our TBI brothers and sisters and those with PTSD. I know he will inspire you and when you read what his amazing, loving Desiree wrote you will understand why he loved her so much. I am blessed to have been given a chance to know Phillip through my dear friend Dez and I am pleased to have you meet them both today!
My Phillip, by Dez
People come in and out of our lives daily. There are only a few that make a real impact. One year ago I met the most beautiful man to have entered my life and this is our story.
I met Phillip through his sister Erika, who just happens to be one of my best friends. When I met him, I was living in Sacramento, California and he was living in Juneau, Alaska. The first night we met we stayed up late talking. I told him about my dad, a Vietnam vet who committed suicide after suffering from PTSD, heroin addiction, homelessness, and unemployment for fifteen years. Phillip talked about his time in Iraq and he showed me his scar on his foot where an IED almost blew it off. He told me how half of the time his foot was numb and tingly, half the other time it was in pain. Behind his beautiful smile, big laugh, and his goofiness was a man in pain. In his eyes I could see his hopelessness and despair. I thought to myself, “is this how dad felt?”
A couple of days later I was on a plane headed back home, but I didn’t want to go back. I had an overwhelming sense of belonging in Juneau. As soon as I landed in Sacramento I started my research to find help for Phillip. I was on a mission! I spent hours on the internet looking for resources for him. I also did research on PTSD trying to educate myself on the symptoms and treatment. At this point, I wasn’t aware of his TBI.
We continued our friendship via Facebook and eventually through text. There would be silly postings back and forth on each other’s Facebook statuses. We even had a “poke” war going on for a bit, plus numerous private messages. We talked about our jobs, our kids, our pasts, how difficult it was to find that special someone. He said that he came to terms with the possibly of growing old alone because women didn’t want to be with him due to his “negative attributes”. He claimed to be broken and that’s why women ran away from him. He was adamant that he’d never get married again and that the word “love” was a four letter word. With two divorces under his belt, who can blame him? I told him that he may be broken, but he’s mend-able, he just hadn’t found a woman strong enough, and to keep his chin up. I frequently offered words of encouragement. I became his cheerleader.
I eventually learned that Phillip did have a TBI and how it affected him. Food didn’t taste the same, he was forgetful, and he had trouble backing up a car. Sometimes he would say things that wouldn’t make sense or he’d use the wrong words when trying to express himself. He was always fatigued and lacked concentration.
Research on resources for Phillip wasn’t going too well. I was finding plenty of them, but none that reached Juneau. I kept hitting brick wall after brick wall. It was frustrating. No wonder he had pretty much given up. Then I found a non-profit organization called Give an Hour (GAH). They provide free mental health services to veterans, their families, and even their significant others. I emailed Jessica from GAH, she said that even though they didn’t have providers in Juneau, she would search for one that would provide phone counseling for Phillip. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!
Our friendship had grown into something more and I felt that I could be of more help if I moved to Juneau. So, I found a job, packed up my boys, and we moved to Juneau. Although I fell in love, being in a relationship with him wasn’t always easy.
On one of our dates, we got on the tramway that took us to the top of Mt. Roberts. We roamed around, had fun, and got eaten up by mosquitoes. While we were waiting in line to get back on the tramway, a woman, maybe in her late 50’s or early 60’s and all of 5’1”, came up from behind me and said, “excuse me” as she passed me. This made me lean into Philip. All of the sudden, he yelled, “excuse you!” I was shocked and slightly embarrassed. The lady turned around and yelled back, “I did say excuse me!” I confirmed that she did excuse herself and apologized to the lady. He didn’t hear her and thought that she had pushed me into him. As she walked back, this 5’1” lady and 5’11” hunk of a man stared each other down! He later apologized profusely for embarrassing me. I tried to make light of the situation and said, “Philly, thank you for protecting me from the little old lady, but I think I could’ve taken her.” Protecting me from little old ladies had become the running joke throughout our relationship! He was good at protecting those he cared for and loved, but sometimes not so much for himself. A friend’s brother once was rude and disrespectful to him in his own house and he didn’t do anything about it.
I’ve never dated anyone who suffered from a TBI and PTSD, so I had a lot of learning to do. On one occasion, Phillip gave me a hug. Me being the silly girl I am, hugged him back, but when he tried to pull away, I held on tighter and wouldn’t let go. After about a minute he said, “Ok Dez, you can let go now.” Smartass Dez said, “Nope.” Then he grabbed me, pushed me away, and said, “I’m starting to get anxiety, it reminds me of combat.” I was horrified. He didn’t hurt my feelings, I just felt horrible that I had triggered an anxiety attack. This was the second time I had triggered his anxiety. The first time was earlier in the week, when I wouldn’t let him smoke in the car while his son was in it. He later apologized for pushing me away. I told him that I’m the one that should be apologizing and to be patient with me while learn what his triggers are.
We had quite a few good times together. He made me laugh daily. We watched movies together nightly. I’d take him dinner when he was at work and just hang out with him. He would joke around with me and say, “Woman, this dinner better be good or you’ll be punished!” I’d retort back with, “promise?” He’d come have lunch with me at work. Every once in a while, he would playful pounce on me and thinking that he had my arms pinned down, I’d reach around and give him a super wedgie! We would text each other constantly. The first time I sent him a text in Spanish, “Tu eres mi Corazon.” (You are my heart) He responded with, “No thank you, sweetie. I don’t want burritos for dinner.” About an hour after that he sent me a text in German, “Du bist mein herz zu, mein schatz!!” (You are my heart, my treasure) After that, anytime I sent him a text in Spanish, he’d respond in German. He had even begun to use that dreaded “L” word, “Babe, I love you ‘cause you make my life normal.” He always knew how to brighten my day and when we went to bed, he always made sure he had his arms wrapped around me. He made me feel safe.
Phillip told me some of his stories from his time in Iraq, but then the nightmares came back. During one of them, he grabbed my hand and that woke the both of us up. I let him know that he didn’t hurt me, held him, and told him was home safe. I would later find out from Phillip’s best friend that it terrified him that he had grabbed me and was scared of hurting me. I knew violent nightmares was a possibility, I didn’t get into this relationship blindfolded. After that nightmare, he completely closed up about Iraq. He would do that a lot. One moment he’s lovey dovey, and the next he’s distant and cold. Sometimes I think he would do things on purpose just to try to push me away. A couple of light bulbs burned out in our apartment, he got angry and when I tried to calm him down, he yelled at me and stormed out. He wouldn’t talk to me until the next morning. He told me that he wasn’t the man he used to be. I told him that I didn’t know that man and that I’m only interested and in love with the man I know now. Yes, he was a challenge that I took on and I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was more determined than ever to find him help.
Jessica did get back to me. She gave me the number and email for a LCSW at the Anchorage VA. I passed that info on to Phillip, but he never contacted him. So I did. First, I left him a voicemail, but I got no response. I emailed him and still no response. Then I contacted somebody at the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc. They referred me to the new VA clinic that was opening in Juneau at the end of October. I gave that info to Phillip and told him to make his appointments. He confessed to me that he didn’t trust the VA and that the only way he would get counseling through the VA is if I went with him. He told me that I was the only one he could trust. I told him that was a deal because we were a team and that we were going to get through this together. I promised him that I would never give up on him. I contacted the Juneau VA clinic to set up his appointments. His medical appointment was set for December 7th. I made sure it was on my day off so I could go with him. I wanted to discuss with the doctor the importance of getting Phillip’s foot fixed and express my concern over the cocktail of medications they had him on. The VA had him on Celexa, Welbutrin, Trazadone, Ritalin, and Lisinopril. His mental health appointment was scheduled for December 10th. I have a wonderful boss that was able to give me that day off. Things were looking hopeful; we were on our way now!
On December 5th, Phillip had lunch with me at my work. While we were waiting for our order, he looked at me and said, “Ya know, I’ve been thinking about marriage and I see myself married to you.” I about fainted! I teased him, “What, but I thought you said that were never going to get married again?” He blushed, smiled his beautiful smile, and said, “Yeah, I know.” We got distracted when our order was ready. I was ecstatic! He was thinking about a future versus when I first met him when he felt like he had no future. Yes, there was some progress! When I got home from work, he sheepishly smiled and asked, “So, did you think about what I said earlier?” I answered, “Yes, of course I’ll marry you, silly!” The next night as we were getting ready for bed we got into a debate on whether or not I was going to take his last name. He thought that I should keep my father’s name or at least hyphenate it. I laughed and said, “Desiree Victoria Rodriguez-Patch, are you kidding me? My name is long enough as it is! I’m dropping Rodriguez and taking Patch, proudly!” He just smiled and said, “Ok.” As we got into bed he said to me, “I’m glad you’re in my life, babe. I love you.” I told him that I was glad he was in my life, too, and that I loved him. We kissed and went to sleep.
The next morning, December 7th, Phillip slipped into a coma and on December 12th he passed away.
Because of him, I gained perspective on what my dad went through. I had been angry with him for over twenty years for committing suicide. Now I understand and I am no longer angry. Though our time together was brief, I am eternally grateful to have had that time with him. Phillip once told me that he believe that there was a reason that God had brought us together and he thought it was to help me find peace with my dad’s suicide. Apparently, he was right.
With open arms,
Founder/President and severe TBI survivor
The Arms Forces
PO Box 981
Maumee, OH 43537